The value of intellectual property (IP) rights may not at first glance be affected by an economic downturn, but the manner in which companies enforce them certainly is, says Alejandro Angulo, partner at Barcelona-based IP boutique Grau & Angulo.
‘We are seeing a clear change in the strategies being adopted by businesses in respect of the enforcment of patents and trademarks. As revenues decline, companies are being more aggressive in the manner in which they enforce their rights, but also more selective about the battles they engage in,’ he says. Patent owners are trying to keep the biggest share of a downsized market, while trademarks owners are trying to keeping the same level of activity but cannot increase budgets.
In buoyant markets, IP holders have often been content to accept their relative share of market revenues, but as business activity and incomes decline companies are looking to adopt new strategies to ensure that they maintain, or even increase, their relative market shares.
‘What we see from IP filings (and especially renewals) is that companies are now paying greater attention to the rights they are maintaining – the focus towards those that are strictly indispensable to the core business of the group,’ he says.
The companies tend to spend their budget more in enforcement than in maintaining parts of the portfolio that might not be essential for the company. Greater emphasis is clearly being placed on protecting ‘essential patents’, which cover established industry standards, but also in the way companies are managing their trademark portfolios, he notes.
‘The belief is that in times of economic difficulty, there is more temptation for consumers to buy counterfeit goods, and so there is now a massive focus among many companies – in the leisure, fashion and sports industries – towards protecting the ‘cleanliness of their brands.’
He has seen in some specific fields a dramatic upturn in client emphasis towards enforcement activity, he says, although many companies are however choosing to commence court actions against manufacturers only where the ends clearly justify the means.
‘The emphasis towards enforcement is clearly there, but where brand owners are contemplating litigation the focus is increasingly towards achieving a quick settlement or prosecuting only those companies where there is a realistic prospect of obtaining damages. IP owners are being more selective about the targets they pick but relentless when they find them.’